STEPHEN

My family has been bleeding Carolina Blue since my brother joined the football team 6 years ago. You could imagine my excitement my senior year when I was recruited to play there as well. While I was sitting in the stands for years, watching my brother, I dreamed of running out of that tunnel one day with a uniform on. Finally, I had my opportunity.

When I was enrolled my freshman year, it was a dream come true. Life was perfect! I was in the best shape of my life meeting a ton of new friends and getting to be a part of the team.

By the time our third home game came around, I was told I had cancer. It seemed like it came out of nowhere, and I was not prepared. I was only 19 years old, and I had no idea what to do. Who do I tell? How is my life going to change? How will my family react? On the walk home from the doctors back to my dorm, I broke down in tears. I sat on a bench and got out all the tears, but from that moment on I realized I had choice. I could go through the next couple months thinking life is unfair and feel sorry for myself, or I could be as positive and strong as I could.

I made the decision to not let this adversity get the best of me, but I still didn’t know who to turn to. I was scared to see my parents upset, so I decided to keep it from them for a week or so. It didn’t take long to realize I needed to turn to the most important person in my life, my brother. He was always the wise one and helped me through everything. Without him I wouldn’t be in the place I am today. When I gave him the news, he dropped everything and came with me to the doctors to discuss my options. We decided on surgery to remove the tumor.

Obviously, I couldn’t prolong telling my parents forever. I went home for dinner that night to talk to them about it. It was so great having the support of my family and to know I wasn’t in this alone. It really helped me form a positive mindset.
We needed to move fast to remove the tumor. In the next couple days, I was in the hospital preparing for surgery with my family and close friends by my side. Surgery was a breeze in comparison to what would come in the next couple months. It was time for chemotherapy.

Before chemotherapy, I still had not let the news out to everyone besides my family and best friends. I really did not want to. I didn’t want to be treated differently. I didn’t want people to pity me. I flat out didn’t want to tell anyone. Little by little, I began to let out the news, and this was the best decision of my life. I started with my team. The amount of support I received was beyond what I could ever imagine. I was getting texts everyday from them telling me they had my back through this whole experience. It was exactly what I needed to mentally prepare for this journey ahead.

Chemo is no joke. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through (and that’s saying something because UNC football workouts are a killer!). No matter what chemo did to me, I needed to keep a positive mindset. I wanted to do this for my family and friends, not for myself. I hated to see my mom in pain from her “baby” having to go through this. I figured the best thing I could do for her was to keep a positive mindset.

Here’s where my story gets very similar to people around the world. Obviously, I felt embarrassed about losing all my hair. I hated feeling constantly sick. I dreaded going to the hospital everyday, and I just wanted life to go back to the way it was. Although there were bad parts to my situation, there were tons of positive experiences as well. Just to name a few, a lot of my friends shaved their heads when I lost my hair (this meant more to me than I can put in words). I realized my support system was way beyond what I could’ve ever imagined. I grew mentally tougher, and my eyes were opened to the fact people are dealing with this all around me and I can help them.

It seems like no matter what kind of adversity life throws at me now, I can handle it. I know I will come out of the situation stronger than I was before.

After my recent recovery, I realized I want to become as involved as possible with helping people through their battle. I want to be able to tell them that they are not alone in their fight and that myself, along with the entire UNC football team, has their back.